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london light

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his is a letter I just wrote to Jerry Pournelle, which described how I felt after two days in London:

Hi, Dr. P,

I lived in London for eight years, but I’ve been in Dublin for the last three. I’ve been back in London for 2 days, and the fear of terrorism and war is everywhere, playing havoc with life in general.

I arrived on Thursday, through the quiet Luton airport, with only armed police (no soldiers) in evidence, but had my bag searched at a train station later, by a “police community assistant” (not even a real police officer), who seemed to have been given the job as part of some hazing ritual. He was totally unprepared for the procession of angry people he was creating, but still had the cheek to ask for my name and address. I was carrying a hardback book (Tom Clancy’s “Red Rabbit”), but he didn’t even look inside it – there was space for a pound of C4 had I been so inclined.

At the time I was being searched, someone arrived at Gatwick from Venezuela with a live grenade in their luggage, having obviously not been searched at departure. BBC News ran an “expose” showing how a presenter could go and stand under the takeoff path at Luton and Stansted airports, within SA-7 range of departing planes, for half an hour before being challenged by armed police.

Today about half a million people are marching towards Hyde Park for an anti-war protest that has been semi-hijacked by a “Freedom for Palestine” platform. It was such fun walking out of the centre, against the mass of “day tripper” protestors in their eiderdown jackets, with Starbucks lattes and McDonalds muffins in hand, that I had to resist the temptation to go “baa!” at every corner in memory of Dolly (who died yesterday).

Starting Monday, every car that enters central London will have its license plate read by computer, and the registered owner will receive a fine if they haven’t paid the £5 “Congestion Charge” by the end of the day. There are unconfirmed reports that the system is (or soon will be) capable of facial recognition too. Of course, the call centre that handles payments and exceptions (for residents etc.) is hopelessly backlogged, due to poorly trained staff and badly-designed systems, and thousands of local residents can expect to get nasty letters through the post in weeks to come.

Now I’m off to Luton for my flight back to Dublin. Let’s see if I can make it without Tube crashes, “peaceful protest” riots, cancelled trains, bag searches, facial profiling, disrupted flights, and a SA-7 warhead up the undercarriage as we take off. Good day…


Written by brian t

February 15, 2003 at 4:12 pm

Posted in demographics, london, travel

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